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What Does Salicylic Acid Do for Your Skin?

Posted by Nikki Wisher on Jun 11th 2024

What Does Salicylic Acid Do for Your Skin?

When you’re shopping for skin care products, you see labels advertising that they have certain ingredients in them, like “now with retinol!” One of those ingredients you sometimes see called out on those labels is salicylic acid. Why is salicylic acid such a big deal that skin care brands will highlight it on their label? Should you be looking for products with salicylic acid?

What Is Salicylic Acid?

As you can tell from the name, salicylic acid is an acid and it’s in a category called beta hydroxy acids. Without boring you with too many of the sciency details, there are two types of acids you typically find in skin care products: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs are water soluble, but BHAs are oil soluble.

Here’s why that matters: oil soluble acids like salicylic acids can reach deeper into your skin’s structure than AHAs can. So salicylic acid is an ingredient that can penetrate further into your skin, especially to break up clogs in your pores.

What Does Salicylic Acid Do for Your Skin?

We know at this point that salicylic acid has the power to reach deeper levels of your skin, but then what? What can it do for your skin in the process? There are several different reasons skin care products love to incorporate salicylic acid.

Manage Acne

The most common use for salicylic acid in skin care is for acne management. Because it’s an oil-soluble acid, it can reach far into your pores and break up clogs by dissolving the clogging debris. That makes it great for clearing up existing breakouts, and if you’re using it on a regular basis, it can also break down pore-clogging debris before clogs actually form so it can prevent future breakouts too.

Exfoliate Powerfully

The other common use for salicylic acid is as an exfoliant. If you’re not familiar with the term, exfoliants are products that help clear away surface skin cells to reveal fresh layers of skin below. Your body is constantly producing new skin cells and shedding surface skin cells so exfoliants like salicylic acid just help that process along, because otherwise the surface cells can give you a dull complexion or get into your pores and cause blemishes. Exfoliation can even help with reducing lines and wrinkles as well as fading age spots and other dark spots.

There are different exfoliants that work in their own ways. Salicylic acid in particular can exfoliate by breaking up the bonds that hold onto surface skin cells, which allows those cells to slough off more easily. You’ll even see salicylic acid used in some chemical peels because it’s such an effective exfoliant.

Reduce Inflammation

When you see the word “acid” in an ingredient’s name, you don’t expect it to be soothing or anti-inflammatory, but salicylic acid can have that effect. It’s particularly handy for inflammation that’s linked to acne, helping painful and inflamed pimples to go away faster.

Ease Certain Skin Conditions

Along with easing acne and helping with exfoliation and inflammation, salicylic acid is used to treat certain skin conditions too. Specifically, it can be helpful for skin conditions that cause an overgrowth of cells, like psoriasis, dandruff, calluses, certain warts, and corns. The salicylic acid breaks bonds between the skin cells to make it easier to remove scaly, dry, or thickened skin.

More to Know About Using Salicylic Acid

Whether you’re interested in salicylic acid for its acne-fighting properties or its exfoliation, there are a few things to keep in mind in the process.

Read and Follow the Product’s Instructions

It’s always a good rule of thumb to only use skin care products according to the products’ instructions. With salicylic acid, though, there are a few reasons why this is particularly important.

First, there’s a lot of variation in salicylic acid. Products come with many different strengths of salicylic acid, and they come in many forms from cleansers to serums to creams. Because of this, some products might be advised to use once per day, others might be a few times per day, or even just a few times per week.

Second, there are risks with overusing salicylic acid. Overuse can cause dry skin or irritation. Salicylic acid is also typically designed for small areas of use like your face, and if you use salicylic acid throughout your body when that isn’t advised on the label, there’s a risk of salicylic acid poisoning.

Salicylic Acid Works for Certain Types and Causes of Acne

Salicylic acid can be very effective for acne but not necessarily for all types of acne. There are three main causes of acne: your body shedding skin cells abnormally so they clog your pores, excess oil production, and certain bacteria on your skin. Your acne could be caused by any one of these or a combination of them.

For the most part, salicylic acid helps with the first cause: pore clogs from abnormal skin cell shedding. That makes it effective for whiteheads and blackheads. It can help a bit with bacterial acne because it does fight those bacteria slightly. But the moral of the story is that the cause or causes of your acne will affect how well salicylic acid will work for you.

Great Salicylic Acid Products to Try

Ready to get acquainted with salicylic acid? Here are a few favorite salicylic acid products you can try.

Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash

As anyone with acne knows, using the right cleanser is a major part of acne-friendly skin care. Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash is a cleanser that uses salicylic acid to break up clogs in your pores for clearer skin.

Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Triple Acid Peel

If you want to see what salicylic acid can do in the exfoliation department, check out Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Triple Acid Peel. This at-home peel uses salicylic acid and a few of its best acid buddies to exfoliate aged and damaged surface skin, ultimately reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

Jan Marini Bioclear Face Cream

Want to combine the acne-fighting and anti-aging powers of salicylic acid? Try Jan Marini Bioclear Face Cream. It’s formulated to reduce acne breakouts while also minimizing signs of aging and giving your skin a smoother, more youthful texture.

Bringing Salicylic Acid to Your Skin Care Lineup

Salicylic acid is one of those skin care ingredients that can do wonders for your skin, especially for certain skin types and concerns, if you use it properly. Check out the wide selection of products with salicylic acid from Skin Elite and pick out your perfect fit.